Can 3 No. 1 picks earn Edmonton a Cup?
April, 17, 2012
By Alvin Chang | ESPN Insider
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireIf the Oilers continue to draft players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, playoff success will follow.The last two drafts, the Edmonton Oilers did what they are supposed to do with the No. 1 overall pick. They drafted a forward. At No. 1, it's almost a guarantee the player will be an All-Star. Of course, there are busts -- Alexandre Daigle comes to mind -- but evaluating high-end forwards requires the least amount of guesswork. It's partially why 15 of the last 22 No. 1 picks have been forwards.
So when the Oilers won the draft lottery last week, they were thrown into an interesting spot. On one hand, no team has had three consecutive No. 1 overall picks since 1991. Even considering how bad they've been, the Oilers got very lucky. But on the other hand, there are three factors that make this a bit more complicated:
A) The Oilers need an elite defenseman -- and the top player in the draft is forward Nail Yakupov.
B) You never want to draft need instead of talent; that's how mistakes are made.
C) Defensemen are huge risks this high in the draft.
So to pass on Yakupov for, say, defenseman Ryan Murray won't be a good decision. If they really want a blueliner in the draft, they may look to trade down -- but, again, it's still a risk. I recently chatted with ESPN Insider colleague Grant Sonier, and he thinks the Oilers will ultimately keep the pick, draft Yakupov and sort out the pieces afterward. Why? Because the only place to find high-end skill players, like Yakupov, is at the top of the draft.
So the primary question appears to be: Draft Yakupov or trade the pick?
But that's avoiding the bigger question -- the question of whether a team with such a young core can actually win a Stanley Cup in the next few years.
Looking at the past 20 years, there are five teams that are ideal case studies for the Oilers' current situation. These are teams that had a cluster of top-three picks within a five-year span and had varying levels of success. Let's take a look.
Alexei Yashin, Alexandre Daigle, Radek Bonk, Bryan Berard, Chris Phillips)
Four years results (since Yashin): No playoff appearances
Eight years results: Four playoff appearances, including a second-round appearance
Five consecutive top-three picks should've netted the Senators a lot more talent. But a combination of poor drafting and bad talent pools left the Senators with far less value than expected. In fact, the only guy who outplayed his expected production was Yashin; everyone else failed to meet expectations, and that includes three No. 1 overall picks.
This is almost the worst-case scenario, and even Ottawa had decent eight-year results. It's unlikely the Oilers end up in this situation.
Andrei Zyuzin, Patrick Marleau, Brad Stuart)
Four years results (since Zyuzin): Three playoff appearances, including a second-round appearance
Eight years results: Six playoff appearances, including a Conference Finals appearance
Zyuzin was a product of the horrendous 1996 draft class, and Stuart was a decent pick at No. 3. All in all, the Sharks did just fine with their picks. Marleau and Stuart were a huge part of San Jose's success, though some key veteran additions really helped the team stay competitive for a long periods of time. (They've missed the playoffs only once since the Marleau draft in 1997.)
The Oilers will likely end up netting far more value than the Sharks with their three picks.